Photo by Diane Chiddister
Friends Care Community residents Nell Dawkins, left, and Dorothy
Tilton, right, danced the hula with Joan Gifford, a Friends Care
employee, during the nursing home’s SS Friends Cruise Thursday,
skirts, tropical drinks mark Friends Care cruise
Nursing home: For most people, the phrase brings to mind a depressing
image of lonely old people sitting in wheelchairs in a cold, institutional
setting. It’s not a phrase that people usually associate with “joy”
Two weeks ago, though, Friends Care Community brought new meaning to the
phrase. In honor of National Nursing Home Week, the FCC staff and residents
turned their facility into a cruise ship and embarked on a four-day cruise,
stopping in the imaginary ports of Hawaii, Mexico, Ireland, Africa and
Barbados. In doing so, they showed that a nursing home can be a place
of surprise and adventure, a place where residents still have a lot of
living to do.
“There have been so many joys,” Ona Harshaw, an activities
assistant, said about the week. “People have been so happy.”
Entering the facility Thursday afternoon, a visitor encountered an unexpected
sight — a line of Friends Care female staff members dressed in hula
skirts, performing to island music a surprisingly polished hula. The north
wing had been transformed into Hawaii, and planners had pulled out all
the stops — the ocean roared from a floor-to-ceiling mural while
plastic palm trees dotted the hall. Residents sipped tropical fruit drinks
with little umbrellas on top, watching the dancers and listening to a
strolling ukulele player. The residents seemed delighted by the dancers.
“They sure know how to give a party,” resident Ellie Dale
said, sipping her pink drink.
When a man with a video camera looked lost, Emily Baldwin, a social worker,
steered him in the right direction. “Do you know how to get to Mexico?”
she asked. “It’s right down the hall. I’ll show you.”
Sure enough, down the hall and to the left, a visitor suddenly entered
a crowded Mexican street in what was once the facility’s east wing.
“Margaritaville” wafted from intercoms as sombrero-wearing
staff served margaritas from Dorothy’s Bar. Residents munched on
Mexican pastries and chips and salsa, watching as a wheelchair-bound woman
whacked a piñata until candies exploded onto the floor.
One older woman in a wheelchair, an Alzheimer’s patient, nodded
her head to the music. “She usually doesn’t talk much but
she likes the music,” said Kathy Murray, an activities assistant.
“We’ve been getting responses from people that we don’t
get otherwise. There’s a lot of smiles.”
It was Day 3 of the SS Friends four-day cruise, and residents and staff
seemed to be still going strong. The event began Tuesday evening, May
13, with a Bon Voyage dinner with captain — and Friends Care administrator
— Jeff Singleton, who had to protect his passengers from an unexpected
The following day, residents sang karaoke in the morning, then in the
afternoon visited Africa, in the south hall, and Barbados, in the west
wing, where residents received tattoos and ate Caribbean food. That evening,
in the Monte Carlo Room — formerly the multipurpose room —
residents played games of chance, and spent their winnings in a duty-free
On Thursday, May 15, the casino offered blackjack and craps in the morning,
and residents visited Ireland. In the afternoon, they toured Hawaii and
Mexico, then were entertained by tap dancers in the evening. Friday morning,
a farewell brunch brought the festivities to an end.
Asked her favorite part of the cruise, longtime Yellow Springs resident
Leanna Perry, who now lives at Friends Care, couldn’t choose. “It’s
nice,” she said. “I like all of it.”
Throughout the event Captain Singleton wandered around in his self-described
“funny shorts,” shaking his head in wonder.
“I’ve been working in this business for 26 years,” he
said later. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The event began several months ago in Baldwin’s imagination when,
during the long dark days of winter, staff members said they wanted to
go on a cruise. If the staff wanted a cruise, Baldwin reasoned, the residents
must want one, too. Why not pretend to take a cruise in the facility?
“I thought about how much fun it would be to take an imaginary cruise,”
Baldwin said. “But everyone thought it wasn’t doable.”
But Baldwin kept talking up the idea and gradually converted the doubters.
The staff held lots of meetings refining the idea, she said, deciding
on destinations, entertainment and decorations.
As planning proceeded, the residents got involved and just like with a
real trip, Baldwin said, the planning became almost as much fun as the
trip itself. Residents had passport photos taken for the trip, and trivia
games focused on cruise destinations.
The event called for extra effort from the staff, and they responded in
kind, said Baldwin, who also credited community volunteers and residents’
family members with pitching in.
“I can’t say enough good things about the staff, community
and families,” Baldwin said. “They made it happen.”
The cruise preparations came with surprises, such as the three FCC residents
— Valeska Appleberry, Alberta Lewis and Ellie Dale — who got
so involved observing the practices of a tap-dancing troupe that the women
took part in the performance as well, swaying and tapping their feet in
their wheelchairs. Now, Baldwin said, Appleberry wants to take tap-dancing
The SS Friends Cruise dovetailed perfectly with Friends Care’s emphasis
on a holistic approach to residents’ needs, Singleton said. First
involved with the nationwide nursing home movement Eden Alternative, which
the staff later refined into the local effort Circle of Friends, the nursing
home seeks to address not just residents’ physical needs but their
emotional and spiritual needs, Singleton said.
And no matter how old or how sick people are, they have the capacity for
joy, Baldwin believes, and the SS Friends Cruise gave residents a chance
to feel it. Like a vacation, she said, the cruise took residents to a
different place, with all the surprise and excitement a new setting offers.
Most important, the event countered the stereotype of a nursing home as
a place where people just sit around waiting to die, Singleton said.
“There was electricity in the air. We were making things happen,”
he said. “The residents were doing, not waiting. They were living.”